How welcoming is your organization to neurodivergent employees, and how successful is it at engaging them effectively in the workplace? When it comes to hiring, management, and retention in the workplace, individuals with differences such as autism, dyslexia, or Tourette syndrome are often discounted by employers, to the detriment of the individuals and employers alike.
Neurodiversity recognizes that “there is no single way for a brain to be normal” and that these differences benefit organizations and society at large.1 Conditions such as ADHD, autism, dyspraxia, dyslexia, dyscalculia, and Tourette syndrome may all be placed under the banner of neurodiversity, but neurodivergent individuals do not represent a homogeneous group; they are a large, diverse cohort that can vary greatly in terms of their skills and abilities.
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Although the global market for diversity, equity, and inclusion is projected to grow to a staggering $28.9 billion by 2030, the vast majority of DEI programs overlook neurodiversity.2 Despite estimates that 15% to 20% of the global population is neurodivergent, only 1 in 10 organizations specifically includes neurodiversity within its DEI programs.3
Some organizations focus on neurodiversity as a form of disability inclusion, although many members of the neurodivergent community object to their characteristics being framed as disorders, disabilities, differences, or diseases.4 We propose simply that neurodivergent individuals can meaningfully contribute to the workplace when organizations recognize their strengths and support their needs.
Incorporating neurodiversity into the larger conversation about DEI is important for reasons of fairness and inclusion and because of the advantages that neurodivergent individuals can bring to organizations. Companies such as Deloitte, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Microsoft, Ernst & Young (EY), JPMorgan Chase, and SAP are among those that have recognized the benefits of introducing neurodiversity programs.
SAP’s neurodiversity program has improved its employer reputation, innovation capabilities, and employee engagement. For example, a technical issue that a neurodivergent employee helped resolve resulted in $40 million in savings on a single project.5 Similarly, JPMorgan reports that participants in its neurodiversity program complete tasks more quickly and are significantly more productive than the rest of its workforce.6 Meanwhile, EY reports that its neurodivergent employees excel at innovation, learn how to automate processes faster, and have identified process improvements that have cut technical training time in half.
1. S. Baron-Cohen, “Editorial Perspective: Neurodiversity — A Revolutionary Concept for Autism and Psychiatry,” The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 58, no. 6 (June 2017): 744-747.
2. “Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) — Global Market Trajectory & Analytics” (San Jose, California: Global Industry Analysts, October 2021).
3. N. Doyle, “Neurodiversity at Work: A Biopsychosocial Model and the Impact on Working Adults,” British Medical Bulletin 135, no. 1 (September 2020): 108-125; and “1 in 10 HR Professionals Say Their Organisation Is Now Focusing on Neurodiversity at Work,” Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, Feb. 15, 2018, www.cipd.co.uk.
4. Baron-Cohen, “Editorial Perspective: Neurodiversity,” 744-747.
5. R.D. Austin and G.P. Pisano, “Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage,” Harvard Business Review 95, no. 3 (May-June 2017): 96-103.
6. L. Petterson, “IBM Australia to Roll Out Neurodiversity Program, Hiring People With Autism to Fill Variety of IT Roles,” ABC Ballarat, April 2, 2019, www.abc.net.au.
7. C. Evans, “How Attitudes to Neurodiversity in the Workforce Are Changing,” Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, Feb. 1, 2016, www.accaglobal.com.
8. J.M Szulc, F.-L. McGregor, and E. Cakir, “Neurodiversity and Remote Work in Times of Crisis: Lessons for HR,” Personnel Review (preprint, published Dec. 24, 2021).
9. A.M. Roux, P.T. Shattuck, J.E. Rast, et al., “National Autism Indicators Report: Transition Into Young Adulthood,” PDF file (Philadelphia: Life Course Outcomes Research Program, A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, Drexel University, 2015), https://drexel.edu.
10. N. Hofman, “How to Get the Benefits of a Neurodiverse Workforce,” Ernst & Young, Nov. 23, 2020, www.ey.com.
11. H. Annabi, E.W. Crooks, N. Barnett, et al., “Autism @ Work Playbook: Finding Talent and Creating Meaningful Employment Opportunities for People With Autism,” 2nd ed. (Seattle: ACCESS-IT, University of Washington, 2021).
12. A. McKay, “How to Be Inclusive of Autism in Recruitment Practices,” PDF file (Ithaca, New York: Neurodiversity Hub, 2019), www.neurodiversityhub.org.
13. C.C. Izundu, “Does Your Company Nurture Neurodiverse Talent?” BBC, Jan. 17, 2020, www.bbc.com.
14. N. Barnett, “World Autism Awareness Day — A Playbook to Inclusive Hiring,” April 2, 2021, Microsoft, https://blogs.microsoft.com.
15. Izundu, “Does Your Company Nurture Neurodiverse Talent?”
16. “6 Companies With Neurodiversity Recruitment Programs,” Tallo, July 2, 2020, https://tallo.com, July 2, 2020.
17. “Creative Differences: A Handbook for Embracing Neurodiversity in the Creative Industries,” PDF file (London: Universal Music UK, 2020), https://umusic.co.uk.
18. K. Neilson, “Hearing The Light: How to Support Employees With Autism,” HRM, July 22, 2019, www.hrmonline.com.au; and T.M. Haskins, “Building Employers’ Capacity to Support Competitive Employment for Adults with Autism: A Promising Practice Study” (Ed.D. diss., USC School of Education, University of Southern California, May 2019).
19. D.W. Ford and K.M. Sibbernsen, “Interrupting Unconscious Bias in the Workplace,” Business NH Magazine, June 28, 2019, www.businessnhmagazine.com.
20. Haskins, “Building Employers’ Capacity.”
21. “Building an Accessible Workforce Development System: Recommendations to American Job Centers on Supporting Autistic People and Others With Disabilities to Promote Successful Employment,” PDF file (Washington, D.C.: National Center on Leadership for the Employment and Economic Advancement of People With Disabilities, July 2018).
22. Universal Music, “Creative Differences.”
23.E. Russo, D.L. Ott, and M. Moeller, “Is There a Place for Neurodiversity in the Talent Pool?” in “Diversity in Action,” ed. M. Latukha (Bingley, U.K.: Emerald Publishing, 2021), 265-285.
24. Haskins, “Building Employers’ Capacity.”